Bronte, Waverley Cemetery (Sidney)

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44A St Thomas Street, Bronte NSW 2024, Australia
17.00 ha
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The Waverley Cemetery opened in 1877 and is a cemetery located on top of the cliffs at Bronte in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. It is noted for its largely intact Victorian and Edwardian monuments. The cemetery contains the graves of many significant Australians including the poet Henry Lawson. Funerals are conducted Monday to Saturday.

The cemetery is self-funded, deriving its income from interments – including burial, cremation, memorials and mausolea – of which there has been over 86,000. Waverley Cemetery was used during the filming of the 1979 Mel Gibsonfilm Tim. The Cemetery was designed to function along similar lines to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Kensal Green Cemetery in London.


The need for a cemetery in the Waverley area was discussed as early as 1863. In 1866, a delegation of representatives was sent to the Minister of Lands to talk about the proposal. In 1868, Waverley Council committed to the cemetery's management on the provision that it would "incur no cost in doing so", and a government grant of £1200 was provided.[citation needed] In the 1870s the government of New South Wales purchased an initial four hectares of land, which they provided to the Waverley Council for use as a cemetery. To this local citizens added an additional five hectares of adjoining land.

The first interment occurred on 4 August 1877. In 1892, a "sinking" fund was established to pay for the upkeep of the cemetery during times of insufficient income. By 1894 the cemetery had grown to its present size of forty-one acres bounded by Trafalgar, Boundary and St Thomas streets.

Historical significance 

Waverley Cemetery contains the graves of many people who shaped Australia. This includes literary figures such as Henry Lawson, (one of Australia's most famous poets), Jules Archibald, founder of The Bulletin and benefactor of the Archibald Prize, nineteenth century poet Henry Kendall, the American actor William E. Sheridan, poet and author Dorothea Mackellar, and author Ethel Pedley. Other significant figures include aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargrave, Olympicswimmer Fanny Durack, and New South Wales Premier Sir James Martin, (whose remains were transferred to Waverley Cemetery after the death of his wife in 1909).

The cemetery contains over 200 war graves from various past conflicts, of which there are 132 registered and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission(over 100 from World War I and nearly 20 from World War II). The front gates are a memorial to the residents of the area who died during World War I and World War II . 

Inside the main gates is a memorial to the military forces of NSW which houses the remains of several officers killed in an 1891 sea mine explosion at Middle Head. At least eleven United States Civil War veterans are also buried at Waverley, including Phineas S. Thompson. In addition, the cemetery is home to the The Irish Martyrs' memorial, the final resting place of Michael Dwyer (1798 Rebellion), a memorial to those who died in the Fenian Rising of 1867 and a memorial stone commemorating the 1981 Hunger Strikers. As well as nationally famous figures the cemetery contains the graves of notable Sydney identities including Robert "Nosey Bob" Howard, the state's first salaried executioner who served until 1904, and Sydney crime figure George Freeman.

Architecturally, Waverley Cemetery is significant in that it showcases examples of Stonemasonry and funerary art dating back from the 19th century, with features (such as the gates, buildings and fencing) that due to their intact nature are considered of "outstanding aesthetic value". Included in this is a tomb designed for James Stuart and his family by the architects J Burcham Clamp and Walter Burley Griffin.


The cemetery after more than 130 years of operation remains a 100% self funded business. It has never been funded by the public purse or council ratepayers, with individual graves maintained for a fee. Where families no longer wish to maintain their ancestor's graves this has led to some significant memorials (such as those belonging to Jules Archibald and Victor Trumper) falling into disrepair. In 2002, with new plots due to run out in ten years and an ongoing problem with vandalism, the Waverley Council as owners of the business looked for alternative sources of revenue. These included corporate and private sponsorship for grave sites, a proposed crematorium, and the building of a new path to limit access to the cemetery by potential vandals. 

This sponsorship plan met with limited success, although some graves have been restored with the assistance of sponsors – including Jules Archibald's (by The Bulletin), Lawrence Hargrave's through the Royal Aeronautical Society, and the grave of Henry Lawson which was restored through a $10,000 grant by the State government – this has not secured the future of the business. The plan to incorporate an on-site cremation into the existing business encountered vocal opposition, including by Liberal Party MP Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Member for Wentworth, who spoke in Federal Parliament against the plan. The community opposition led to the plan being canceled in 2004. Finally, work on a new two million dollar boardwalk designed to move joggers and others passersby away from the graves was approved and was due to begin construction in July 2008.

In late 2007, the National Trust ran an online competition to determine the distribution of $185,000 in funding. Of the nine finalists, the Waverley Cemetery's ceremonial gates proved to be the most popular, winning the majority of the votes. Unfortunately, the amount voted to the project was only a little over 25% of the total restoration costs. The 75% remainder has been left to be funded by the cemetery and is likely to take many years to complete.

Cultural influences

The earliest known motion picture filmed at the cemetery was the 1977 Italian production 'La Ragazza dal pigiama giallo', also known as 'The Pyjama Girl Case', a murder story based on the true story of Linda Agostini, the Pyjama Girl. In 1972 the cemetery was featured in filming for Spyforce where Colonel Cato played by Redmond Phillips was supposedly buried. In 1979 the cemetery was a location in filming of the movie Tim starring Mel Gibson. Baywatch used the cemetery while filming its Australian movie length episode, and the Australian series Home and Away buried one of their characters at Waverley in 2004. In 1996, scenes from the season one final of Australian TV show Water Rats were filmed at the cemetery. Notable recent films include Dirty Deeds. It was also pictured in the Bollywood Blockbuster Dil Chahta Hai in a musical sequence.

The cemetery has been a place of inspiration for many artists, Henry Lawson who ultimately ended up there was fond of using the location in his stories, either as direct reference or indirectly.

South Head Cemetery

South Head Cemetery is situated at the junction of New South Head Road and Old South Head Road, Vaucluse, New South Wales. Although it is in Vaucluse, which is in the Woollahra municipality, it is administered by Waverley Council and is a companion cemetery to Waverley Cemetery.

The cemetery was established to cater for the needs of the population in the growing Vaucluse area; its first interment was in 1869. It was run for some time by a private trust, but management was transferred to Waverley Council in the 1940s. It covers an expanse of 4 acres (16,000 m2) and contains the graves of 6,000 people as of 2008. There are a number of well-known people interred at the cemetery, including Sir John Robertson, former Premier of New South Wales; Australia's first Prime Minister Edmund Barton.; Robert Clyde Packer and Frank Packer, newspaper proprietors, and other members of the Packer family; members of the Fairfax family, also newspaper proprietors; John Norton and Ezra Norton and family, also newspaper proprietors; Frank Clune, author; Sir Walter Edward Davidson, Governor of New South Wales; Roy Redgrave, founder of the Redgrave acting dynasty; Edmund Resch, of the Resch's brewer family; John Charles Wright, former Archbishop of Sydney; former Lord Mayor of Sydney Sir Richard Watkins Richards, iconic cricketer Victor Trumper, the architect Howard Joselandand the architect John Horbury Hunt. There is also a memorial to Juanita Nielsen (situated within the elaborate Mark Foy family mausoleum), who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1975, presumed murdered.

There are Commonwealth war graves of 18 Australian service personnel, 5 of  World War I and 13 of World War II, in various parts of the cemetery.


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